Survey: Staff shortage, student mental health are top concerns among MI educators

EAST LANSING — The ongoing educator shortage and student mental health are the top challenges facing Michigan teachers and education support professionals, according to a new survey of educators released Wednesday by the Michigan Education Association.

“These last few years have been extremely challenging for our students, educators and parents, and this survey makes it clear what the real issues are facing our schools,” MEA President Paula Herbart said. “We as a state must come together to support our local schools by fixing the educator shortage and ensuring our kids can receive the academic and mental health support they need to succeed.”

More than 3,500 pre-K-12 teachers and support staff, school counselors, social workers and therapists, as well as higher education faculty and staff, participated in the statewide survey, conducted Aug. 15-25 for the MEA by Ann Arbor-based Emma White Research.

Survey respondents working in pre-K-12 schools were asked about their concerns regarding issues facing public education. Among the findings:

  • 87% said they were extremely (57%) or very (30%) concerned about shortages of teachers and staff.
  • 87% reported being extremely (56%) or very (31%) concerned about student behavioral issues and mental health.
  • 83% said they were extremely (56%) or very (27%) concerned about compensation for teachers and staff.

Herbart pointed out that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s new education budget, which passed this summer with bipartisan support, will go a long way toward addressing these priorities. The budget includes a record level of per-student funding for school districts, as well as funding for innovative programs to help attract new educators to the profession, provide more mental health resources to our kids, and help students who fell behind during the pandemic catch up.

“This survey shows that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is on the right track when it comes to addressing the needs of students, educators and parents,” Herbart said. “It’s critical that school districts use the new funding to directly support our students and educators — including raising compensation and offering retention bonuses for teachers and support staff, so we can attract and retain the best and brightest educators. Our kids deserve the best.”

Lawmakers should also take heed to issues around school safety and gun violence, as 65% of pre-K-12 educators surveyed reported being extremely or very concerned about the topic.

Much like the general public, educators overwhelmingly favor commonsense solutions to reduce gun violence — 89% “strongly support” universal background checks for firearm purchases, 83% strongly support raising penalties for firearm dealers who knowingly sell a gun intended for a minor, and 78% strongly support “extreme risk protection” laws to help prevent access to guns for those most at risk of harming themselves or others.

The survey also provides some guidance to candidates looking to earn educators’ votes this November. If a candidate for governor, the Legislature or local school board supports raising educators’ salaries and benefits, they would be “much more likely” to earn the vote of 77% of educators. In addition, 70% of MEA members said they’d be much more likely to vote for a candidate who supports school staff to address the physical, social and emotional needs of students.

Conversely, 83% of MEA members say they are “much less likely” to vote for a candidate who supports Betsy DeVos’s new school voucher proposal, which would divert up to $500 million in taxpayer dollars each year to private and for-profit schools.

Details about the survey and additional data can be found here.

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